Zombie Meal Ticket
Well, the long and short of it is – for me, anyway – the game is great, but it's (or was) nothing more than an over-priced expansion pack. That notion probably sounds familiar, as that's how many folks described the game before it even released. Now, I'm one of the few folks who creamed their pants when the game was announced at last year's E3. I wasn't the least bit insulted Valve was already releasing a sequel, though I did still hope to have support for the first game (which they did a decent job of). I played the living hell out of Left 4 Dead, so having something new in that vein was exciting to me.
What I wasn't expecting was merely more of the same. I'm talking about the same art assets, no real changes to the game engine or visuals, and the characters are almost a complete cut and paste of the first characters. Yes, there are some cool, new additions, but everything that's been added would have had much more of an impact had this title been marketed and sold as an expansion to the first game, rather than a stand-alone package.
So, what's new in L4D2? The biggest change is the addition of melee weapons. Is it a ground-breaking change? Hardly. It's about on par with having unlimited ammo for the auto-shottie – great for choke-point slaughters. Most of the melee weapons have the same effect on zombies, so there's little reason to love one thing over another, though attack speed is slightly different for certain items.
Of course, there are new Special Infected, and for me, they add the most value to the formula. The Spitter is a really cool take on the Boomer, making for a zombie that can create some serious havoc in the midst of a wave of undead; the Jockey is another cool idea, though he's more annoying than formidable; and the charger adds a fresh slice of chaos to zombie rushes.
The levels are fun, and there are some neat twists here and there, but there is also some sloppy design. There are areas where textures don't load but there's still collision. The A.I. for the Special Infected no longer feast on downed survivors – for good or bad. New items, such as the defibrillator are a great addition, though, and it's neat to see the developers take cues from the community by adding laser sights and explosive rounds.
L4D2 is not as good as the first game, and certain things that were added I could live without (alarm sequences where everyone needs to bolt to a certain area because the horde won't stop coming just seem like an easy way out in terms of trying to make the gameplay more challenging). They've added more zombies to waves, rather than tweaking the A.I. There are still ample cheap spots and exploitable options, yet you can no longer easily bind your keys to vocalizations (something that was excluded in an update). Valve got rid of some cool stuff and replaced it with extraneous content.
L4D2 also doesn't seem to be optimized as well as the first game when it comes to harnessing the power of your video card over the CPU. Loads are longer, and where the first game took a free ride on the speedy processing of my nice ATI card, L4D2 bottlenecks my CPU for no good reason. There are also some bugs that crop up from time to time that cause the game to freeze up.
I bought L4D2 off Steam recently during another one of their crazy sales, and at the price I paid, it's a great value. For $10, I will get much more than my money's worth out of it. However…I've been gaming for over 30 years now, and I have a decent idea about what constitutes a stand-alone product. The game would have garnered much more love and respect had the publisher offered it as an expansion pack. Even at $30, people would have loved it. But for those folks who had to pay full price to play it on a console, L4D2 is likely going to seem like an anemic package. Regardless of my criticisms, the Left 4 Dead series is still one of the most meaningful allegories in video-game form, and if you can get this game on the cheap, you shouldn't hesitate to do so.